Republicans in Hempstead last week slated a public meeting to consider — wait for it — restricting the use of publicly funded mass mailings within 45 days of elections.
That’s a big deal.
First, because Republicans for the first time are picking up the mantle against mass mailings from elected officials that far too often are political brochures masquerading as public information.
Second, the use of such taxpayer-funded mailings by incumbents in Nassau and Suffolk counties has long come under criticism — although there have been few successful efforts to stop or slow distribution of such materials.
Last month, two Oyster Bay residents filed a lawsuit in State Supreme Court alleging that flyers sent out by Supervisor Joseph Saladino and the Republican-majority town board are political ads.
The suit, filed in Mineola, says the mailings violate a state law limiting the content of municipal publications to official matters.
A spokesman for Saladino said Monday night that the lawsuit was political and that Saladino, at the last town board meeting, had self-imposed a 30-day ban on mailings before the Nov. 7 election.
Saladino, a Republican, is seeking election as supervisor after he was appointed to the post following the resignation in January of former Supervisor John Venditto, who has pleaded not guilty to federal and state corruption charges. The fate of the six town board members — two of whom also were appointed to their posts — rests with voters in November as well.
In Nassau, District Attorney Madeline Singas, in a letter to the county Board of Ethics last month, sought an expedited opinion on the legality of officials’ use of taxpayer-funded mailings for promotional purposes. The idea was to have the board examine the county charter’s ban on taxpayer-funded mailings for political purposes — and then articulate what would constitute a violation.
“Without clear governing guidelines, rules and protocols, public officials in Nassau County continue to waste millions of tax dollars on self-promotional mailings to improve their election prospects,” wrote Singas, a Democrat. “ . . . But absent a provision providing clear notice of the unlawful action, my office cannot prosecute them for official misconduct.”
The ethics board’s response?
As of Monday, according to Singas spokesman Brendan Brosh, “We have received no acknowledgment, in any form.” The letter went out after Nassau’s Republican lawmakers increased their mailing budget by $400,000 — in an election year.
In Hempstead, a proposal put forward by town board members Erin King Sweeney and Bruce Blakeman would bar board members seeking re-election from sending out mailers within six weeks of an election, require town ethics board review of mailings and impose fines on violators.
Town board members, in a unanimous vote from an often-fractured panel, approved a hearing for Oct. 17 at 7 p.m. at Town Hall. It remains to be seen, however, whether Hempstead passes the measure — and manages to do so before Election Day.